Poet and essayist Kathy Engel is making her Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers debut in 2017. In addition to giving a reading of her published work, she will moderate our Public Conversation on Art and Politics. Engel is Associate Arts Professor and Chair of the Department of Art & Policy, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. Her recent books include Ruth’s Skirts, IKON, The Kitchen, (with German Perez) and We Begin Here: Poems for Palestine and Lebanon, coedited with Kamal Boullata.
Continuing our successful CONVERSATION format, open to the public and focused on a topic of interest to our community of readers, writers, and lovers of language, Festival of Women Writers 2017 brings together four women whose outstanding literary work is in service to art and social activism. The participants in A Public Conversation on Art and Politics, moderated by Kathy Engel, will discuss how writing engages and shapes history, how public performance presents communities with avenues of critique, and ways in which the personal is an activist testament. The panel will discuss the inseparability of artistic practice and political practice. Joining Kathy Engel for the A Conversation on Art and Politics will be poets, Marianela Medrano and Elana Bell and essayist, Nancy Bereano.
Stephanie Nikolopoulos interviews Kathy Engel IN THE SPOTLIGHT:
SN: You teach a class called “Language as Action” at NYU and former Hobart Festival of Women Writers workshop instructor and writer, Alexis De Veaux has said your book Ruth’s Skirts “exposes the artificiality of the borders between poetry and prose, between poet and activist.” Though you could surely write an entire book on the topic, can you give us a small taste of your relationship between language and activism—specifically, why do you turn to poetry, to the crafting of beautiful words, to speak on weighty matters of the world?
KE: Stephanie, I have no choice. I live in the lusciousness, power and danger of words, commas, dashes, line breaks, and also pauses and erasures, the stutters and struggles of the birth and death of language — even as I embrace silences, or quiet spaces between words. Poetry works through the poet I think. Although there have been numerous times when, as an activist or organizer, I’ve felt divided, that my poem self wasn’t fully welcomed at the table of political movement, it is poetry where I feel most myself, and therefore most able to give and offer something useful for transformation. Language can reveal or conceal. Those who abuse power conceal, distort, and manipulate with language. We know our language is at risk. And that the idea of any truths are at risk. The job of the poet is, in part, to go to the deepest, most challenging, most contested places with language, to dare, to translate, to reveal. Through our lyric, our narrative, our complicated and connected, we have the possibility of revealing the universal. We have to believe the language is alive, that we can claim, name, re-name, and articulate not only resistances but dreams. As organizers and diplomats we must often self censor. As writers we must “kill the censor” as one of my mentors always says.
SN: MADRE, the international women’s rights group you co-founded, is doing work in Syria and Iraq, places where the news has been devastating yet many turn a blind eye or even blame the victims. MADRE creates compassion and awareness by sharing women’s stories through the written word and through guest speakers. How might someone utilize MADRE’s resources to foster more awareness about the particular vulnerabilities women in the world face?
KE: When we started MADRE in 1983 it was the power of the women’s stories that moved us. We believed that hearing the stories would move people in the U.S. to action in ways that statistics or analysis alone often don’t. It has proven true. MADRE’s resources offer the opportunity to learn more specifically about how women around the world are affected by U.S. policies, and what they are doing to build their lives and self sufficiencies. Therefore it offers tools not only to understand, but to learn from our sisters around the world. MADRE offers ways to connect, offer information in one’s own community, to learn across borders and policies, and to act in support of concrete programs. KNOW MORE ABOUT MADRE, LINK HERE: https://www.madre.org
SN: What do you want writers to get from A CONVERSATION ON ART AND POLITICS you’ll be moderating at this year’s Hobart Festival of Women Writers?
KE: I’m delighted to have been asked to moderate the panel, A Conversation On Art and Politics, rather than lead a workshop. I’m pleased to be joined by Marianela Medrano, Elana Bell and Nancy Bereano as well. I never have a set notion of what I hope writers (or anyone) would get out of a project. I hope they learn something, think differently as a result of the conversation, be introduced to a work they didn’t know before, offer one. Perhaps an idea will take hold that comes from the exchange, a collaborative project. As long as there’s genuine exchange and openness, anything is possible. I’m not interested in the predictable or obvious or proving a point. I’m interested in seeds. New language. A shift. If I learn something, which I’m bound to, then I can only hope others will as well. We’re in a moment, as we have been, but more intensely now, more acutely, a precipice really, when we must shift or perish in some sense. While there is a sense of great danger, there is also a sense of openings.
It’s up to imaginers to be bold.
Festival of Women Writers 2017 is September 8, 9 &10th. Registration opens June 15th